History October 01, 2020 at 02:00 pm

At 21, this gallant Somali-born man died fighting for Italy during WWII. He’ll now be honored in Rome

Mildred Europa Taylor | Head of Content

Mildred Europa Taylor October 01, 2020 at 02:00 pm

October 01, 2020 at 02:00 pm | History

Somali-born fighter Giorgio Marincola. Image via BlackPast

When anti-fascist Afro-Italian partisan Giorgio Marincola was killed on May 4, 1945, alongside 25 other partisans and civilians, it was apparently the final Nazi massacre on Italian soil. In fact, two days before the Somali-born fighter was killed by withdrawing Nazi troops, Germany had officially surrendered in Italy at the end of World War Two.

In recognition of Marincola’s gallantry and ultimate sacrifice, he was posthumously awarded Italy’s highest military honor in 1953, but activists have been fighting to have his name honored on the streets of Rome. Authorities finally heeded the call last month when they announced that a metro station will be named after the Italian-Somali member of the Italian resistance.

The station was to be called Amba Aradam-Ipponio acknowledging an Italian campaign fought in Ethiopia in 1936 but this August, councilors in Rome voted to rename the metro station. Mayor of Rome Virginia Raggi said the decision “means a lot to Rome and its history, honors a partisan who came from so far away and fought for our freedom, and condemns the Italian colonialist past.”

Indeed, the decision was taken at a very good time, considering the extent to which countries have been acknowledging their colonial past to fight racism.

When Somali-born Marincola was participating in raids against German forces during the Nazi occupation of Italy, he did show the world that one can be a citizen no matter where they are born and that one’s identity is not determined by the color of their skin.

Born September 23, 1923, in the town of Mahaday, north of Mogadishu, in what was then known as Italian Somaliland, Marincola’s mother, Ashkiro Hassan, was Somali and his father was an Italian military officer called Giuseppe Marincola who had been dispatched to the town. At the time, most white colonizers refused to acknowledge children they had with native women, but Giuseppe did otherwise and brought his son, Marincola and daughter, Isabella, to Calabria, in southern Italy, to be raised by his family.

Marincola, at the age of 10, was sent to Rome to rejoin his father who had married an Italian woman with two more children. There, a brilliant Marincola, after high school, studied medicine at Rome University and even planned to return to Africa to treat people with tropical diseases when he got attracted to anti-fascist ideology.

There and then, he joined his high school philosophy professor, Pilo Albertelli, enlisting with him in the resistance in 1943 during the Nazi occupation of Italy. Albertelli was then a co-founder of “the underground” anti-fascist Action Party (Partito d’Azion), which used violent guerilla tactics in 1943 to fight the Nazis.

Marincola, who became known as the Partigiano nero (the Black partisan), rose to the rank of lieutenant in the partisan force. The courageous fighter went ahead to receive training from the Special Operations Executive, a British-led agency that was supporting resistance groups in German-occupied territories, according to reports.

In January 1945, he was captured by the SS — German leader Adolf Hitler’s elite troops — who tried to make him say words against the resistance movement in a radio broadcast. Marincola refused and was beaten while on air. “Homeland means freedom and justice for the peoples of the world. This is why I fight the oppressors,” he was quoted to have said while on air.

It was later reported that while being held by the Germans, the Italian-Somali also said this about Italy: “I perceive the nation as a culture and a sense of freedom, not as any (racial) color.”

Marincola would later be killed in the Fiemme Valley in the northern Italian province of Trento by retreating German soldiers. His citation for his Gold Medal of Military Valour in 1952 reads:

Teenage university student, immediately after the armistice he joined the liberation struggle, greatly distinguishing himself in the Roman underground units through determination, talent and bravery. After the liberation of the capital, eager to continue the struggle, he joined a military mission and in August 1944 he was parachuted into Biella. He rendered valuable services in the organizational and information fields and in numerous armed skirmishes he demonstrated firm conviction and legendary courage, causing injuries. Captured by the enemy and forced to broadcast propaganda on the radio, despite the expectation of extreme reprisals, with inner strength he took the opportunity to proclaim loyalty to the legitimate government. After harsh imprisonment, freed by an Allied mission, he refused to go to safety to Switzerland and preferred to continue to fight with the Trentino partisans. He fell bravely in a skirmish with the German SS when the struggle for liberation was just triumphantly concluded.
— Castel di Fiemme (Trento), 4 May 1945

In June when Black Lives Matter protests engulfed the U.S. and across the world following the death of George Floyd, journalist Massimiliano Coccia and other activists started the campaign to have the metro station in Rome named after Marincola.

“It is good that in his name we will remember the sacrifice of the Somali who fought for Italy and we will begin a process of ‘decolonizing’ the city, building an awareness about the past,” journalist Coccia said.

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